Friday, December 10, 2010

U.S. Air Force Investigation Concludes July 28th Elmendorf C-17 Crash Caused By Pilot Error

The Anchorage Daily News reports that the U.S. Air Force has finished their investigation of the July 28th crash of a C-17 aircraft while practicing maneuvers for the Arctic Thunder Air Show, and has concluded that the crash was caused by pilot error. ADN has posted a non-embeddable video showing the takeoff sequence until just before the impact (the impact itself was edited out). It shows the C-17 banking sharply to the left, recovering, then banking even more sharply to the right. Back in July, a witness got a better view of the fatal banking to the right:

Joseph Busby saw the plane crash. He said it was "truthfully terrifying" and that it was performing very similar maneuvers to those shown in the YouTube clip [of a similar demo]. "When it banks to the right like that, what we saw was an over compensation, for the turn, like I said... The wings were up and down, 90 degrees with the earth there, and rather than correcting back this way, it continued to roll over and pitch down," he said.

Here's part of the official press release from the Pacific Air Forces website:

The accident investigation board found clear and convincing evidence the cause of the mishap was pilot error. The investigation revealed the pilot placed the aircraft outside established flight parameters and capabilities. During the mishap sortie, the pilot aggressively flew the aircraft in a manner inconsistent with established flight procedures, resulting in a stall. The pilot failed to take required stall recovery actions. Furthermore, the board concluded the co-pilot and safety observer failed to recognize or address the developing dangerous situation. As a result, the C-17 stalled at an attitude and altitude from which recovery to controlled flight was impossible.

The mishap resulted in the deaths of the four crewmembers aboard, the destruction of the $184 million aircraft, and damage to part of the Alaska Railroad. Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson spokesman Bob Hall says he doesn't know which of the three pilots on board was actually flying the C-17 when it crashed. But the names of the crewmembers were previously released:

-- Maj. Michael Freyholz, a pilot assigned to the Alaska Air National Guard's 249th Airlift Squadron. 12 years military experience, 3500 flying hours.

-- Maj. Aaron Malone, a pilot assigned to the 249th AANG Airlift Squadron. 12 years military experience, 2100 flying hours.

-- Capt. Jeffrey Hill, an active-duty pilot assigned to Elmendorf's 517th Airlift Squadron. Eight years military experience.

-- SMSgt. Thomas Cicardo, a loadmaster assigned to the 249th AANG Airlift Squadron. 28 years military experience, 5400 flying hours.

"Pilot error" does not mean the individual was a "bad pilot". It simply means the crew overestimated the capabilities of the aircraft in that particular situation. The crew died just as honorably as if they had been shot down in combat.

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